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Museum wants your family photos

By Lori O'Brien


HOLYOKE The Wistariahurst Museum has launched a digitalization project that seeks to preserve the faces and places of the city's past, according to its curator, Kate Navarra Thibodeau.

Area residents are invited to share their old photographs with her on the first Wednesday of each month at the museum. In addition to leaving with one's original images, high resolution digital copies on a CD can be made for $1.

The monthly program is titled "Pictorial Histories of Holyoke: Digitalization Project" and is conducted prior to the museum's Historical Perspectives lecture series. The next digitalization project session is planned Feb. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m., followed by a talk on "The Hidden Holyoke: Working in Holyoke" by Daniel Czitrom, Ph.D., and Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College. The lecture will feature a slide show and talk on industrial work in Holyoke from 1870-1940. Light refreshments will be served. Admission is $3.

"Our hope is that people who are interested in local history will contribute to our growing collection by bringing in photographs and documents to be scanned for preservation and then will stay to listen to a historical lecture," said Thibodeau, who recently spoke with Reminder Publications.

Thibodeau explained that the digitalization project took shape last summer when she was conducting research on immigration and migration to Holyoke.

"I was finding many photographs of empty mill buildings and was wondering where the people the human aspect of my story was," she added.

Thibodeau issued a public call to see if local residents would be willing to share the faces and places of Holyoke with museum staff. From that initial request, a few city residents brought in loose photos, albums and even objects.

"It occurred to me at that point that this was Holyoke's history," she said, adding "it had walked into the museum in the form of people's family histories."

In the past six months, she has heard stories of hard work, happy times, job opportunities and even family sorrows.

"This program is important to both the city and our collection at Wistariahurst because we are finding out more about the people that made up the history of Holyoke through their personal histories," she added.

Area residents are invited to bring in photographs in their family albums, framed portraits, and documents including birth certificates and immigration papers that can be scanned.

"I usually have a conversation with participants about family history in general, like where they are from, where they worked, if there are any stories they would like to share," said Thibodeau. "Then we talk about each photo, try to identify who they are and about what time period the photo was taken."

With any new project there are bound to be some hidden surprises and Thibodeau noted that her most exciting surprise to date has been some people donating items including family trees, items from Holyoke's industrial past and immigration papers.

"One man said that he knows we will care for this history better than he will, so he has donated many items that have enhanced our collection," she said.

Participants do not have to have identification of their photos during the monthly session but, of course, it helps. Some people have brought in photos of people they cannot identify so a small exhibit in the museum's second floor gallery has been installed in the hopes that area residents will be able to identify some of the individuals.

"There are about 17 photographs in frames on the walls, with an album of other photographs for people to browse through and try to identify," she said.

Thibodeau noted that when photographs and/or documents are brought in, she scans them on a Cannon scanner at high resolution. Then she makes a copy of those scans and puts them on a CD.

"The participant then gets the original photos and for $1 a high-resolution scan of their originals," she added.

For more information on the digitalization project, call (413) 322-5660.